Digging into the grooves with the world’s first 3D-printed tonearm for turntables

vpi3dprintearmTo paraphrase the great American inventor, Homer J. Simpson; “3D Printers…is there anything they can’t do?” The 3D printer may eventually become as common as the personal computer, but for now they remain relegated to those with deep pockets and/or plenty of venture capital. 

The entrepreneurial few who have taken the leap and invested or borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars for a 3D printer are certainly on the leading edge of manufacturing, and it’s encouraging to see that people are thinking outside the box in regard to what a 3D printer can make. Everything from toys to printed exoskeletons for children with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita have been printed so far, which will hopefully inspire others to develop even more exciting products to better the human experience. 

But where we would really like to see some movement on the 3D printing front is in the consumer electronics category. We can’t wait to print our own loudspeaker cabinets. And imagine printing your own headphones one day – they could be customized to the exact measurements of your head and adorned with your own artwork.

Well, one CE manufacturer isn’t waiting for the future. VPI Industries, best known for its record cleaning machines and award-winning turntables, decided last year to start development of its first direct drive turntable, due to debut at the New York Audio Show on April 12. VPI already manufactures its own aluminum tonearms for its tables, but for its new statement piece, VPI turned to a design firm in Pennsylvania to develop the world’s first synthetic 10-inch tonearm, created by a 3D printer.

The tonearm is a one-piece structure, from its head shell to its counterweight stub. It’s manufactured from an epoxy-plastic that is incredibly lightweight and rigid. VPI hopes to make the tonearm available in 9-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch lengths for its own tables and those of others.

VPIDDtablewith3dprintedarmWe were invited for a private listening session at VPI where the 3D printed tonearm was installed on the company’s new Classic Direct turntable with a $220 Grado Gold phono cartridge. For comparison purposes, VPI CEO, Harry Weisfeld, played the same five records on a VPI Classic 3 turntable using one of its standard metal tonearms paired with an $8,000 cartridge from German manufacturer, Clearaudio. A monster three-channel amplifier from McIntosh and a pair of 40 year-old JBL loudspeakers large enough to house a small family rounded out the test system.

The 3D printed tonearm with the $220 cartridge punched out some of the German’s teeth before ultimately losing on points, but it made us think long and hard about spending more on a phono cartridge if that much performance can be dragged out of something as entry-level as the Grado Gold. The tonearm/table combination certainly made a huge impact on the overall sound quality; the new table/arm combination may cost close to $20,000 in the end, but the impact of the 3D printed tonearm was profound.

The $220 Grado, which we’ve heard on far more affordable tables such as the Pro-Ject RPM5.1, Rega RP3, and VPI Traveler, sounded quicker, more detailed, and the soundstage sounded like it grew by a few feet in each direction. The difference in vocal reproducton between the Grado and crazy-expensive Clearaudio cartridge narrowed by a considerable margin with the 3D printed arm factored in. 

Cost and manufacturing time will certainly limit how many 3-D printed tonearms VPI can sell at this point. The first arm took more than 24 hours to print, but as 3D printing technology evolves and printing costs drop, it may become possible for VPI and other turntable manufacturers to offer state of the art products like this for a lot less money.

The world’s first 3D printed turntable? Possibly just around the corner.

Smart Home

August celebrates No. 1 ranking with white, limited-edition smart lock

One billion lock operations is a pretty huge milestone for a smart home manufacturer and the top-selling brand, August, is celebrating by releasing a limited edition version of its classic smart lock - in white.
Mobile

OnePlus breaks into the top five among U.S. smartphone companies

We've been impressed with the value offered by OnePlus phones for years, but in 2018 the Chinese manufacturer really stepped things up. After impressive sales, OnePlus broke into the top five U.S. smartphone companies in the high-end…
Mobile

Will new Vivo-owned brand Iqoo specialize in cutting-edge phones?

A new smartphone brand has launched. It's called Iqoo, and it's a sub-brand of Vivo, the Chinese device manufacturer owned by BBK Electronics. The company has not revealed its first smartphones yet
Mobile

The Moto G4 Plus is finally getting the update to Android Oreo

We've reached out to every major Android hardware manufacturer and asked them when they will update their devices to the latest version of Google's mobile operating system, Android 8.0 Oreo.
Home Theater

Bose’s technology patents could save an earbud’s battery life

Possibly taking a cue from Apple's popular AirPods, Bose filed a patent application for earbud IR technology that could save battery life, improve sound quality, and possibly help people locate lost earbuds.
Home Theater

ATSC 3.0: The next-gen TV update explained

ATSC 3.0 is the next major update to the broadcast standard we use today. Will this be the second coming of free, over-the-air TV? We're here to explain everything about the new standard.
Home Theater

Samsung accidentally leaks its new Galaxy Buds ahead of launch

It's been all but certain that Samsung would launch a successor to its Gear IconX wireless earbuds soon, but a newly leaked photo and recent FCC certification document seems to indicate that the debut is very close.
Home Theater

Hi-res streaming audio service Qobuz arrives in U.S., threatens Tidal’s monopoly

For several years, Tidal enjoyed a monopoly on hi-res music streaming in the U.S. Now, French company Qobuz is here to offer some competition with a variety of monthly plans starting at $10 a month.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny, muffled TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

Samsung will stop releasing new Blu-ray players in the U.S.

Samsung, the first company to produce a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, is now exiting the Blu-ray market entirely in the U.S. The move comes after Oppo Digital also dropped out of the market last year.
Movies & TV

The Breaking Bad sequel might air on Netflix before it arrives on AMC

A Breaking Bad sequel starring Jesse Pinkman (and, possibly, Walter White) is on the way from series creator Vince Gilligan, and you might get your first look at it on Netflix, not traditional cable.
Deals

The best Presidents’ Day sales 2019: Amazon, Walmart, Dell, and more

Presidents' Day sales are a great chance to score electronics, clothing, home and office stuff, and other goodies at a discount. We’ve smoked out a large handful of the best of these Presidents' Day deals, from tech to bedding, to help…
Deals

Take a gander at the best deals on 4K TVs for February 2019

There's no doubt that a good 4K smart TV is the best way to take your home entertainment setup to the next level to enjoy all your favorite shows, movies, and games in glorious Ultra HD. We've got the best 4K TV deals right here.